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Recurring Nightmares – Change of Seasons

“Wow, you’re THE Adam Barnello!”
“I don’t know about ‘the,’ but I am Adam Barnello.”
“No way man, it’s ‘THE.’ There was a time when people would sit across from you and be terrified.”
“There was? Where was I during this time?”

The end of a PTQ season is a sad time. You look around the room and see a distinct lack of notable faces. The players you recognize for their skill and success in the game have already found ways to qualify, and the room feels emptier without them. Those of us who haven’t managed to earn a golden ticket are desperate and weary, though still exhilarated by the prospect of today being the day. The grinders seem exhausted from the stress and drain of constant travel—but grinders are gonna grind, whether they like it or not. It becomes a kind of ritual, and before you know it, you’ve played six qualifiers in three weeks, and know your deck well enough to play it in your sleep—which is good, because sleep is a commodity that one can’t afford if you want to keep on grinding.

Me, I’m not a grinder. Not in the sense that we use the term today. I don’t play in that many qualifiers each season, and I don’t travel 30 hours in the course of a weekend to get to them. If there’s one within reasonable driving distance, I’m happy to spend my day giving it a shot, but it isn’t—and has never been—a compelling force for me, as it is for many of my friends and acquaintances. Me, I’m sad for another reason.

I’ve really enjoyed this season. Modern gets a bad rap from many players, mostly focused on the long and sometimes unintuitive banned list. There are many out there who look at cards like [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] and [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card], and wonder what kind of format would require banning these cards. They look at [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] and [card]Ancestral Vision[/card], and wonder why you would want to play a large format where you can’t play these cards. They look at the similarities between Modern and Standard, and they don’t see anything all that appealing that they couldn’t already be doing in a format that doesn’t have a ban list a mile long.

Me, I see a deep and interesting card pool with a thousand reasonable choices. I see a format ripe with innovation, where playskill and ingenuity are rewarded. Where there are powerful decks, but fair decks with just as much game, and where the combos aren’t so fast as to dodge the opportunity to disrupt them. And I see fun. Above all, I see fun.

So I’m sad, because I want to play more Modern.

There are still Modern events over the next few weeks, and it’s interesting to me to read a player like Gerry Thompson say, “I’m done with Standard for now. It’s time to set my sights on Modern,” when I have the complete opposite experience coming up. I guess that’s the life of the Pro versus the life of the amateur. You prepare for the events you’re headed to, and I’m finished with Modern for the time being. I’m going to miss it. It’s the format I’ve been waiting years to find again.

This weekend, I played the UWR Reckoner list I’ve been writing about for a few weeks. I felt good about the deck, and about its position in the field, and wanted the opportunity to see how it went with actual stakes on the line. After Jon Corpora decided to jump ship from RG Tron to the deck, he and I haggled for a while about the last few slots, and I arrived at this list for registration:

[deck]Main Deck:
2 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Boros Reckoner
3 Vendilion Clique
1 Island
2 Mountain
1 Plains
4 Arid Mesa
4 Celestial Colonnade
2 Hallowed Fountain
1 Mystic Gate
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
1 Sulfur Falls
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Ghost Quarter
3 Electrolyze
2 Izzet Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
2 Mana Leak
4 Path to Exile
3 Remand
Sideboard
1 Batterskull
1 Spellskite
1 Baneslayer Angel
2 Stony Silence
2 Counterflux
1 Disenchant
2 Pyroclasm
1 Izzet Staticaster
2 Sowing Salt
2 Aven Mindcensor[/deck]

The major changes to the list are the swap of the [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card]s (which moved to the board) for [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s, and the removal of any combo with [card]Boros Reckoner[/card]. The Angels are obviously great with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and with [card]Vendilion Clique[/card], but they’re pretty amazing as just a 3/4 flying with flash, as well. Allowing you to keep up mana for counters and removal, and have a threat at the end of turn that survives [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] is pretty important. Even with Cliques and Mindcensors as flying threats at instant speed, you just couldn’t fight through any kind of resistance—a [card]Lingering Souls[/card] would be crippling unless you find an [card]Electrolyze[/card]. Angel fixes a lot of the issues there by herself.

As for the [card]Harvest Pyre[/card] and [card]Blasphemous Act[/card], they simply didn’t pull their weight. Jon borrowed the cards to play the deck online prior to the event, and sent me a text that said:

“[card]Harvest Pyre[/card] is a pipe dream. Play the fourth Path instead.”

He was spot on. Without cards like [card]Thought Scour[/card], it’s unrealistic to have the volume in your graveyard that’s needed to just dome out an opponent with Pyre. My next concern was whether or not the Reckoners were good enough for the deck without that backup plan.

In short, they are. Everything I’ve said over the course of the last few weeks about the card is still true—it’s a strong creature in the aggressive matchups, and pulls a lot of weight where [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] would be a blank. It has synergy with your creature removal in that it makes the burn spells like [card]Izzet Charm[/card] and [card]Pyroclasm[/card] go to the opponent’s dome when you need them to, and it can still lay on a massive beating when the board is clear. It blocks better than most creatures in the format without creature type – Wall, and goes head to head with a [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] and lives to battle again.

The final change we made to the deck was to add a pair of [card]Sowing Salt[/card] to the board. We expected a fair amount of Tron, and in our experience, the matchup is nearly unwinnable without the ability to wipe their ramp. It’s still not particularly good, but if you resolve a [card]Sowing Salt[/card], it goes from about a 10% chance to about a 75% chance of victory—bringing the matchup from a 9:1, down to somewhere around a 3:2 or so. If we didn’t expect much of the deck, I’d have used the slots another way, but I knew one player in our car was playing it, and at least a half dozen or so of the players we knew were traveling to the event were on the deck as well.

At the last minute, Jon ended up bailing on us for the event. I quote:

“I’m unsure of the Pod matchup.”
“That’s really the reason you aren’t going?”
“That and I’d rather go out on my birthday than spend the money to go to the PTQ.”

Jon spent most of Sunday at the hospital with an IV in his arm, suffering from what he called, “his first old man hangover.” I think we know who made the right choice.

R1 – URW Control

I’m feeling confident as I quickly recognize that we’re playing the mirror, and make the first five land drops as my opponent misses his fourth and fifth, and discards. Unfortunately, this means his hand is loaded, and I put the pressure on to close out the game before he can catch up. Once he makes his fourth land drop, his [card]Cryptic Command[/card]s turn on, and it allows him to dig into the rest of the lands he needs to start coming back. I hit a few blanks at the wrong times, and it gives him the window to resolve a [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card], which puts the game away.

Unfortunately, when one player has [card]Mana Leak[/card] and [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] to the opponent’s [card]Cryptic Command[/card]s and [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]s, there’s not a lot to be done.

The first match of the day, and I’m already wishing I had Geist in my 75, instead of home on my desk. I don’t know that it would have made a significant difference, as the matchup is very lopsided in his favor. One round down, and I’m already in a hole.

R2 – Mono-U Tron

When my opponent sits across from me, I have a mixed reaction. On one hand, I know the player, he’s a local to me, and it’s very obvious that he’s not on his ‘A game’ today—he played someone from my car last round, and was very open about the mistakes he made while the two were discussing the match. On the other hand, he’s on Tron. I haven’t played much of the U-Tron deck, but I can only assume it’s about as bad as RG Tron. At least he doesn’t have [card]Pyroclasm[/card].

In our first game, my opponent leads with an Island, and I’m very happy to see it. I have enough disruption to play through the Tron pieces he does find, and resolve an Angel to get the beats going. When he finds his combo and resolves a [card]Sundering Titan[/card], I [card]Mana Leak[/card] it to ensure that he can’t use his [card]Oblivion Stone[/card] and allow the Titan to survive, eating three of my six lands. I bait him with another Angel, which he [card]Remand[/card]s, and then untap and Snapcaster a Bolt plus attack for the win.

In our second game, my opener is [card]Mana Leak[/card], [card]Path to Exile[/card], 2x [card]Sowing Salt[/card] and three lands. I set him up for a turn 4 [card]Sowing Salt[/card], and force him to [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] his own land to protect it. When I have the turn 5 Salt for his other Tron piece, the game is over before it really starts.

R3 – 5-Color Burn

I win the first die roll of the day, which plays an important part in this match. I lead with a couple lands, and my opponent, who has a [card]Blood Crypt[/card] in play, makes a motion like he’s going to discard before stopping himself and trying to [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] me.

I consider the situation for a moment before [card]Remand[/card]ing his [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]. He discards a [card]Dark Confidant[/card].

The next turn I play a [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card], and pass. He tries to Bolt me. I [card]Remand[/card]. He discards again.

On my next turn I play a tapped land, and pass. He finally resolves his Bolt, and I Clique him at end of turn, seeing 2 more [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s, 2 [card]Dark Confidant[/card]s, a [card]Burst Lightning[/card], and two [card]Boros Charm[/card]s. I have no idea what’s going on, but based on this hand, I’m assuming he’s some kind of Domain Burn deck, and assume he has [card]Tribal Flames[/card] in there somewhere. I let him keep everything, and kill him as fast as possible before he can get a real game going.

In game 2, I play a bunch of [card]Lightning Helix[/card], and counteract his burn as best as I can. I eventually resolve a [card]Batterskull[/card], and it wins.

R4 – Junk

Finally, a matchup where [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] gets to have some fun. Our first game was a grind, as he leveraged his removal and creatures well in order to apply pressure, while I drew as many removal spells as humanly possible. A critical turn involved me using a [card]Restoration Angel[/card] to blink a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], giving [card]Electrolyze[/card] flashback and killing off a pair of [card]Lingering Souls[/card] tokens. I then blocked his [card]Treetop Village[/card] with my Angel, and cleared the board of serious threats, essentially winning the game.

In our second game, I am facing a 4/5 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] and a pair of Souls tokens, while I have a dead [card]Batterskull[/card] and a [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]. He attacks with everything, and I take 6, going to 6. Sensing that my days are numbered, my opponent taps out to play a pair of [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s, the last two cards in his hand. On my turn, I equip the [card]Batterskull[/card] to the Clique, and get in for 7, going to 13.

He untaps and cracks back with everything. I block a Goyf and take 10, going to 3. He says, “Our creatures trade?” and I reply, “No, they don’t.” I can see in his body language that he’s now recognized that I win this race, as he can no longer outpace the damage plus lifelink I have in the air. When I draw an [card]Electrolyze[/card] for my turn to off his tokens, the game is all but over. I attack him and go back to 10, and kill his tokens (drawing SCM). He draws his card and passes. An end step Helix from the ‘yard seals his fate.

R5 – Merfolk

Riding high from my last win—snatched from the teeth of defeat—I feel great going into this round. My opponent is on the play and leads with Island into [card]Aether Vial[/card], and so I know he’s the Merfolk deck that was doing well today. I assume there’s a [card]Cursecatcher[/card] in my future, but I have a [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], a [card]Lightning Helix[/card], and a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], so I assume I’m ok.

His second turn sees a tapped land and a counter on the Vial, and he passes. I play a land and do the same. He Vials a [card]Cursecatcher[/card], and untaps for another counter (2). He attacks, and before damage puts a Lord into play, which I [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] to play around [card]Cursecatcher[/card]. He [card]Mana Leak[/card]s. I untap and play a tapped land (have to), and pass. He doesn’t move the Vial and misses a land drop before attacking. Before damage, he Vials in a Lord. I respond with Helix, he Curses it. I play a land and pass. He ticks the Vial and misses a land drop, attacking for 6. He activates Vial. I respond with SCM. He lets it resolve, and Leaks my Bolt. The Vial resolves and he has a Reejery. I take 8. I draw a blank and die.

I had three removal spells for his three Lords. He had three counters for my three removal spells.

Game two, I mull a hand that has awkward mana into one with a turn three [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] off no Islands, and it has a pair of removal spells.

Once again, he has a turn 1 Vial. I land a turn 3 [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] on an empty board. He goes on for some time about how good that is against him. At end of turn, he vials in a [card]Silvergill Adept[/card], and I can see in his eyes how good his draw was. On his turn, he taps two mana, and plays a [card]Spreading Seas[/card].

Over the course of the next three turns, he plays SIX [card]Lord of Atlantis[/card].

I don’t believe this is really all that bad of a matchup. I think there was definitely some luck involved, and my opponent drew exactly what he needed against me in both games. If I dodge the [card]Spreading Seas[/card] in game 2, I think I take that game. He needs three Lords in play to punch through my Reckoner, and two of his copies were [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]s (which die to anything I can throw at them). Really, these were as close to the nut draws as you get for him, which is frustrating.

I’m knocked out of contention for Top 8, but I decide to play the rest of the event out for data. My tiebreakers are garbage since I lost R1, but I have a shot at Top 16 prizes if I win out.

R6 – Goblins

When my opponent plays a Mountain on turn 1 and passes, I’m hopeful that I’ve finally found a matchup where I can exert [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] dominance—and when he plays a turn 2 [card]Mogg War Marshal[/card], I’m certain I have. I have a phenomenal matchup against this deck, and quickly play out a pair of Reckoners along with a slew of removal to secure game one.

I keep an incredibly risky one-lander in game two that features 2 [card]Lightning Helix[/card], 2 [card]Electrolyze[/card], and 2 [card]Boros Reckoner[/card]. I don’t get there.

In game three, things go according to plan, and a [card]Batterskull[/card] seals the deal with a [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card], [card]Lightning Helix[/card], [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], and [card]Electrolyze[/card] still in hand.

R7 – Kiki Pod

The matchup that Jon is concerned with, and it’s the only thing in the way of me feeling like I had a reasonable result on the day. The difference between 5-2 and 4-3 is a very tangible one (if only in my psyche), and we play for the shot at some kind of prize.

Game one goes about as bad as it usually does. I try to contain his creatures, but he finds a window to resolve a Pod, and despite the fact that the board is clear when he does so, I know it spells eventual doom for me. The game takes a while, as I have a reasonable amount of removal to keep him off the combo, but he overwhelms me with creatures and I die.

Our second game is a slugfest, and despite the fact that I won, I think in all likelihood I probably shouldn’t have. There is a stretch during the midgame where I draw lands for about four turns, and expend my resources to just stay alive. I am down to one card in hand (a [card]Path to Exile[/card] I swore to hold until it could break up his combo), while my opponent has three.

I was able to resolve a turn 2 [card]Stony Silence[/card], and protect it from his turn 2 [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] by killing the Cat while he was tapped out—but that was all I had. His board isn’t particularly threatening, with a pair of [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]s, a [card]Birds of Paradise[/card], and a couple [card]Wall of Roots[/card]—but he has a [card]Gavony Township[/card] that is scary.

I draw an [card]Izzet Charm[/card] and use the loot mode, drawing a [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] to off the Township, followed by an [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] (now that he had used the Township once, it was less good). I then draw an [card]Electrolyze[/card], which takes out his [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]s in tandem with the [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card]. The Electrolyze draws me a Reckoner, which attacks (and is blocked by a 1/X Wall), to off his Birds. I draw a [card]Lightning Helix[/card], followed by a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], followed by a [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. All the while, my opponent plays cards that don’t immediately win. He did assemble a Kiki and Angel at one point, but I still had the [card]Path to Exile[/card] to break it up, and by the time he found anything else of note, it was too late.

I was as amazed to have won the game as anyone, believe me. With just a few minutes left on the clock, we got right to game three.

Perhaps because of the pressure of playing on low time, or maybe because I pulled out a win in game two against such long odds, my opponent kept a weak hand for game three. His turn 1 [card]Stomping Ground[/card] into Hierarch met a Bolt, and he played a [card]Gavony Township[/card] on turn 2 before passing. When he played another Township and passed on turn 3, I knew it was time to apply the pressure, so I played a Snapcaster [card]Ambush Viper[/card] and started going to town. Eventually I assembled an air force of [card]Vendilion Clique[/card], [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card], and [card]Restoration Angel[/card], and the game was over with plenty of time still on the clock.

Ending record: 5-2
Good enough for 18th place – no prize.

Disappointing way to end the day, for certain, but I was very happy with my play and with the deck’s performance. I lost a matchup I feel is extremely unfavorable, and another where I felt like I did everything I could against an opponent who had all the perfect answers. Maybe the Merfolk matchup is just bad—but maybe not. I don’t even know if it’s a real deck, so it’s tough to tell if I should have been more prepared or something. I guess if it’s going to be a real matchup in the future, I could consider boarding [card]Pithing Needle[/card] for the [card]Aether Vial[/card]. Without the Vials, our matchup would have been a blowout in the other direction—as he couldn’t have both protected his board and advanced it at the same time. I can say for sure that I didn’t board in [card]Stony Silence[/card] against him, so I don’t know that Needle would have been all that much better. At least it can name [card]Mutavault[/card] if I need it to.

Going forward, I’m uncertain if there’s much incentive for those of you who are still playing Modern to continue to evolve this list. I get the feeling that the large events coming up are going to be very combo-heavy, and this list is less stable against those decks than other RWU versions, such as Caleb’s Twin list, or the Geist version. I can’t say enough about how impressive [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] has been against midrange and aggressive opponents, but in the other half of the field he’s not particularly outstanding. I would consider playing Geist main with Reckoners to replace them in the board if I were to play the deck in a GP this weekend.

Looking forward, I’m not much of a Standard player, but I REALLY want to go to Ireland. I’m going to shift my focus on to Standard for the next few months, and see if I can find my way to the Emerald Isle. Fortunately, the Standard format seems totally sweet right now, and the change in season coincides nicely with my recent emergence into the streaming world. Maybe the royal You can help me find my way back across the Atlantic and to the Pro Tour once more. I certainly plan to try.

Adam
@AdamNightmare
twitch.tv/AdamNightmare

PS – If you’re a watcher of streaming content, and/or a fan of Super Nintendo, you’ll need to check out the newest additions to my streaming content. Sure, you could play the art game or Squeeze between rounds, but what is that compared to A Link to the Past and Chrono Trigger? Get excited, kids. I know I am.

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